Thursday, August 9, 2012

Homeowner's French Drain Installation To Ease Flooding Problem Leads To $589K In Invalid HOA Liens, Costing Her $50K+ In Legal Bills To Stop F'closure

In Mint Hill, North Carolina, WCNC-TV Channel 36 reports:

  • For Rosanna Wilfong, it started a decade ago. Her front yard was flooding. A pool of rainwater swelled until it was knee-deep. So she hired a company to install a French drain -- a kind of underground trench with a pipe to channel the water away from the foundation of her home.

    She said she spent $6,500 to install the drainage system. Her homeowners’ association forced her to spend another $6,500 tearing it out.

    It was only the beginning of a years-long legal battle with her HOA that ate up more than $50,000 in legal bills and almost cost her her home.
  • Simply removing the French drain didn’t satisfy the HOA board in Mint Hill’s St. Ives neighborhood. Wilfong, a grandmother, has documents to show the HOA asked her to grade the land. She said grading the front of the property would have led to the same flooding she was trying to correct.

    She said the conflict ultimately was not about flooding and grading and French drains. “It was about the money,” she said. “They wanted their money.”

    She’s referring to fines, which racked up at the rate of $400 per day, according to court documents. “They got to be $589,000,” Ms. Wilfong said. “The house wasn’t worth that much….I knew I was going to lose my house. We were all packed up.”

    Ms. Wilfong hired one attorney, then another, then a third. When her lawyer got documents from the HOA, she made a startling discovery. The HOA’s architecture review committee had approved the French drain. “I felt betrayed by the homeowners association,” she said.

    In a ruling earlier this year, Judge Richard Boner waived all the fines and she got to keep her home. But she still had to pay for her attorneys.

    This is a cash cow for the lawyers and the management companies,” said Chris Zbodula, who served on the St. Ives HOA board before having his own dispute. “They’re making an absolute killing on this.”

    The St. Ives HOA board kicked Zbodula off the board for missing meetings. He says the real reason is that he challenged the president for suing neighbors like Ms. Wilfong. “The only choice a homeowner has is to dig deep in their pocket with tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for what could be bogus charges,” Zbodula said.

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